Gauchos win as McElroy sets new mark
The Saddleback football team opened the season with a 45-20 win against College of the Canyons on Saturday night in Santa Clarita. With the win, head coach Mark McElroy becomes the winningest coach in Gaucho history.
McElroy's Gauchos did it in McElroy fashion, rolling up 561 yards and 33 first downs. Saddleback's only blemishes were a couple of fumbles in the opening half or the score could have been more lopsided.
Saddleback opened the game by driving right down the field, going 90 yards on eight plays before Chance Nolan flipped a pass in the flat to Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda, who escaped a couple of tacklers and tiptoed down the sideline for a 7-yard score. The Gauchos then successfully converted a two-point conversion, something that has become a hallmark of the McElroy era in recent years.
On the ensuing drive from Canyons, the Cougars snapped the ball over the punters head through the back of the end zone and Saddleback had a 10-0 lead just 6.5 minutes into the game.
Canyons battled back and tied the game with under five minutes in the half when Tanner Brown connected on a 44-yard field goal. The momentum of the Cougars was short-lived, as Saddleback answered back with an 11-play drive when Nolan found Liam Eldridge for a 12-yard touchdown strike.
The Gauchos weren't finished, getting a three-and-out and forcing Canyons to punt with under a minute remaining in the half. Saddleback then went 65 yards in 39 seconds, capping it off with a 10-yard pass from Nolan to Eldridge.
Canyons cut the lead to 24-13 in the third quarter when the Cougars engineered a 7-play drive, finishing with a 45-yard field goal from Brown at the 11:46 mark. The Gauchos responded with two more touchdowns in the quarter as Shawn Poma and Al Gene Fisher both had two-yard touchdown runs while Saddleback built a 38-13 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Canyons cut the lead to 38-20 midway through the final quarter, trying to make one more attempt at a big comeback. The Gauchos again turned the tables, putting an exclamation point on the win with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Devan Freedland to Liam Eldridge with 4:02 remaining in the game.
Saddleback finished with a 561-299 advantage in total yardage despite Canyons having a slight advantage in time-of-possession. The Gauchos finished with 33 first downs in the game, coming just six shy of a record 39 set back in 2012 (Mt. San Antonio).
Nolan was phenomenal throughout, finishing 24-of-30 for 297 yards and three touchdown through the air. He also led the team in rushing, grinding out 92 yards on 15 carries. Nolan and Freedland finished a combined 31-of-40 for 397 yards and four touchdown passes with no interceptions. Eldridge was the big beneficiary, catching 10 balls for 169 yards and three scores.
Saddleback's defense was vicious at times, stifling the Canyons ground game while holding the Cougars to 4-for-17 on third downs. Canyons averaged just 1.7 yards-per-carry on the ground before falling behind and having to go to the air attack.
McElroy improved his overall record at Saddleback to 150-72, surpassing Ken Swearingen on the all-time wins list. He is now 15-6 on opening day for a career that started back in 1999. During his tenure the Gauchos have finished below .500 just one time in the past 18 years, winning five league titles and appearing in one state championship game (2015). McElroy's Gauchos have appeared in the post-season in 17 of the last 18 years, averaging 7.9 wins-per-season since 2001.
Saddleback (1-0) will attempt to make it two in a row to start the season when they host Ventura College next Saturday at Mission Viejo High School. The Gauchos and Pirates are scheduled to get things going at 6:00 PM. Ventura (1-0) was a 45-7 winner against Orange Coast College in their season opener.